Sunderland Ladies will be relegated from the top flight this season - regardless of how they perform on the pitch.
The Lady Black Cats kicked off their Women’s Super League 1 campaign on Sunday with a fine 1-0 win at Reading.
But plans announced by the Football Association this morning will condemn Sunderland to the drop.
In a re-structure of the women’s game, the top tier will be only for full-time clubs.
Sunderland were building to a full-time structure, but then back-tracked to revert to their part-time model which had brought success in the past.
The FA has approved changes to Super League licences, and all clubs must re-apply for their places. Clubs have until November 10 to submit their applications.
It means new teams could jump straight into the top division if they meet the required criteria.
Sunderland will most likely be part of a new second-tier, of part-time clubs.
The only way Sunderland could stay in the top flight would be to go full-time and meet the FA’s requirements - and that looks very unlikely given the club’s financial position and the fact the new changes would probably cost the club in excess of £1million a season.
A club spokesperson said: “We are aware of the announcement regarding the FA’s restructure of the league format and once further details are made available to us, we will consider how we move forward in light of the changes being proposed.”
On Saturday (7.30pm kick-off), Sunderland host Chelsea - one of the current full-time clubs - at South Shields’ Mariners Park, the club’s new home after a switch from Hetton.